Coming off the success of last year’s groundbreaking full-length Deep In The Iris, Montreal art rock trio Braids have just released a new 4-track Companion EP on Arbutus Records. Clocking in at 19 minutes, the EP was written during the Deep In The Iris sessions and recorded in August of 2015. Much like its predecessor, the Companion EP is a powerful and unrestrained composition with a beautiful, breathtaking aesthetic. Be warned – fall too deep into this one and you’ll get lost in a sea of intricate layers that will both sway you peacefully and crash against you with vigour. Although written alongside Deep In The Iris, the Companion EP is a stand-alone record that once again proves why Braids is and will continue to be a major force to be reckoned with.
I caught up with frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston to discuss the EP and where the band is at now ahead of their show at Ritual Nightclub on Saturday. Have a read below.
Interview with Raphaelle Standell-Preston of Braids
Having some records under your belt now, how does the band deal with the pressure of making new music following the success of Deep In The Iris?
It depends on where the pressure is coming from. If you’re feeling outside pressure, like the expectation to write a hit or something, and you let that get to you, then you’ll likely fall flat on your face, for some people that kind of ‘I want to write a huge record’ works but for us it doesn’t really fuel us in the proper way.. When the pressure is more of an internal one, and one that stems from a desire to go further with creativity, where you just want to make something really good, and get better at your instrument, and write something that you connect with, then that pressure can be a really exciting and fuelling source of inspiration and drive.
It’s about balancing your desire for connecting with more people and your creative desires that makes for a happy writing experience and a record that one is proud of. I think this kind of question extends outside of the realm of making music and into other areas of my life. When I let the pressure of what is ‘expected of me’ cross over into my life, I usually have a quite stressful time. But if the pressure is coming from me to improve, to expand upon certain areas of my life, than it can be a really exciting phase of my life. DON’T LET THE MAN GET YOU DOWN !
The band mentioned that Companion was written during the Deep In The Iris sessions, but recorded in a “burst of creative energy last August.” Can you talk a bit about this creative burst?
We had been touring very intensely for 4 months and were itching to write together again as we hadn’t written since finishing Deep In The Iris almost a year prior. So we had some time off in August and BAM we got some songs together! We put the pedal to the metal.
Moving forward as the years go on, how has Braids grown as a band?
[Laughs] I could write you a novela about the change we’ve gone through!! I think the main thing is that we’ve become really comfortable with each other and more comfortable in our own skin. That quality has played into the band in a huge way – we take more risks, we write more from our hearts, we put ourselves out there more.
The bands mentioned on their Facebook page last year that you were trying to break down some barriers, and be raw and vulnerable. ‘Miniskirt’ was certainly a powerful song that did that, and sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Now that some time has passed since its release, what impact do you hope this song and album have had?
I hope more than anything that the album allowed for people to experience different parts of themselves. We’re all made up of so many experiences, so many memories and so many emotions, and sometimes as humans we put all those feelings away, to get on with things, to be more productive, etc etc etc. Music has allowed me to relive emotions or experience new ones in a safe and beautiful way. I would hope that we were also able to give that to people.
Can audiences expect a lot of new material to be played at shows on this tour?
What’s next for the band after this tour?
We’re heading to the UK for a mini tour. We’re playing Glastonbury for the first time which we’re very excited about. Can’t wait to see Adele play live!! We then do some Canadian and US touring for the summer and begin writing our next record in the fall. xo
Catch Braids at Ritual Nightclub on Saturday, June 4 with support from ginla presented by Spectrasonic. Grab tickets online here or head over to Vertigo Records in-person.
A bad concert can be enjoyable. Like with a cheesy B-movie, there is pleasure to be found in watching a band bomb hard, as depressing as that is. In these scenarios, the audience might watch, entranced, as the band fumbles through their Kafkaesque set, seemingly unaware of the nature of the attention they are receiving.
But Islands last Tuesday at Ritual was not a bad show. Not by any means. Instead, it was a boring show, which is far, far worse for everyone involved. There is no fun to be had watching a band plod through a carefully thought out sequence of chords and rhythms, singing melodies and harmonies that they have rehearsed over and over and over. I’d take a truly terrible show over a boring one any day.
It would be one thing if this unusual for Islands, but I can tell you from experience that they have always been like this. The first time I saw them, nearly 10 years ago at Babylon, they were upstaged completely by a young Gregory Pepper, then a member of the Montreal band The Dymaxions. After a rock-god-inspired set from Pepper, Islands took the stage to play their brand of boredom-pop and put everyone to sleep.
And let me be clear: I like Islands. My history with the band, aside from live performances, is very positive. Return to the Sea is one of my all time favourite albums. I’ve been with them since The Unicorns, and the fact that they play uninspired shows affects my love of their work only slightly. But it also makes me really hesitant to recommend that anyone see their shows, because based on shows like this they are nothing at all to write home about.
It’s a shame because they are clearly talented and creative artists. Why they fail to inspire anything but the faintest of toe-tap, even in completely appropriate venues like Ritual, will never cease to befuddle me, and likely many of their fans.
What’s more is that Ritual’s show began with an energized and dynamic set from Lushlife, whose recent album is nothing short of brilliant. Watching Lushlife made me want to buy his merch. Watching Islands made me wonder why I was watching Islands, which is too bad. I want to like them live, I really do. They just don’t give me much of a reason to.
Perhaps part of the problem was that, on a Tuesday night in downtown Ottawa, it’s much easier to sell chicken wings and Keith’s than live music. The venue was only about a third of its capacity, and much emptier for Lushlife, the opener.
Whatever the reason, I think we can all safely say that Islands will never be known for their live performances. However, if you’re interested in seeing some very excellent musicians play largely flawlessly, if dispassionately, they aren’t a bad time. It depends on what you’re looking for, in the end.
Anti-Flag, Black Lungs, Audio Visceral and Pistols at Dawn jam packed Ritual for a night punk rock sounds and ideals.
Anti-Flag are a politically-charged punk band from Pittsburgh, and are still going strong even after nearly 30 years. Membership may have changed over the years, but the band’s message of fighting for the little guy, breaking down corrupt institutions, and building from the community level up hasn’t changed. Their punk “gospel” has always been about unity, including things like “brothers and sisters we’re glad to see faces that care for more than just themselves, this is your scene! Make a friend tonight and when you see them tomorrow say hi!”
Anti-Flag rocking Ritual Nightclub in Ottawa. Photo by Marianne Morency Landry
You never know what you are going to get on a setlist when a band has so many songs to choose from. The show included a lot of songs off my favourite album, Blood and Empire, which is great considering it is over 10 years old. They also played everything harder and faster than on the record. This made for a wicked hardcore punk vibe to the whole night and not as much of the almost pop punk that they’re known and loved for. The whole show was great, and I still can’t believe they covered Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” (short video here). I suspect it also pleased a local music promoter very much.
Black Lungs bringing the hardcore to Ritual Nightclub in Ottawa. Photo by Marianne Morency Landry
Black Lungs came out real hard for three songs before even introducing themselves. The band is a side project of Alexisonfire’s guitarist and vocalist (RIP), and current Gallows frontman Wade MacNeil. Wade thanked members of the Cancer Bats for filling in on drums and bass. Their addition was awesome in both presence and energy. As the set continued, Wade told the story behind the song “All Seeing Eye,” a hardcore track that times in just under 1 minute and 20 seconds. It is about a sketchy weird jerk off sex shop that the guys told him about that he checked out one day while drunk. When he started doing his business he noticed a little hole in the wall with a finger sticking through it and an eye watching him. As you can tell by the song, he was less than impressed. Black lungs played a solid set of originals and also through in a cover, choosing to play some Misfits.
Audio Visceral dressed to impress at Ritual Nightclub. Photo taken from their Facebook.
I showed up a little late and unfortunately missed locals Pistol at Dawn, sorry boys, and only caught like half to three quarters of Audio Visceral’s set. The boys from Beau’s Brewery sure do bring a lot of energy to their live show. The only thing I could really say to improve their set is singer, Steve Beauchesne, needs to be a bit closer to the mic as I feel like we missed out on a bunch of lyrics. However all in all, they rocked out.
The band casually took the stage, only to rock our faces off with their mind-bending riffs, which both contrast and compliment singer John Murphy’s soothing vocals. The most striking aspects of their performance were the intricate guitar, bass AND drum solos interwoven throughout the set, as well as the flawless and unexpected tempo changes during “Banger”. If you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing the experimental tunes of Walrus live and you’d like to know what The Beatles’ and The Sadies’ love child would sound like, catching a show during their ongoing Canadian tour is definitely worth your while. If you can’t make it to a show, be sure to grab a copy of their newest EP Glam Returns, available on Bandcamp.
By the time Wintersleep came on, Ritual was packed with fans awaiting a premiere of The Great Detachment, set to release the following day, and hoping to hear some old favourites. Wintersleep didn’t disappoint, opening with new track “Lifting Cure”, and proceeding with an array of songs from their early and recent albums. Not big on small talk or banter, they kept interludes short and sweet with humble nods and “thank you’s”, which could only make someone love them more. The band elicited enthusiastic sing-alongs during “Weighty Ghost” and “Oblivion”, catering to hardcore fans and less dedicated listeners alike. Even though The Great Detachment had yet to be officially released, the band had offered an online streaming preview via Clash Magazine, which gave listeners just enough time to get a feel for the new album and learn some of the words. New singles “Amerika” and “Santa Fe” were performed with such infectious energy that you couldn’t help but politely dance your heart out in true Ottawa fashion.
The crowd went nuts as Wintersleep closed their set with “Miasmal Smoke & Yellow Bellied Freaks”, only to be even more satisfied when they came back with a fantastic three-song encore. Finally, fans were blown away during the nearly 10-minute finale as the band jammed out to “Nerves Normal. Breathe Normal” from their 2006 album Untitled.
There was certainly no shortage of headbanging, hip-shaking or-crowd roaring Thursday night. Cramming a mass amount of music lovers into a small-scale venue, in which you can stand pressed against the stage and make awkward eye contact with your favourite musicians, is something Ottawa does best. A big thanks to Spectrasonic and Ritual for hosting such an amazing show, and to Walrus and Wintersleep for making us forget how hella self-conscious we are about dancing in public.
The Great Detachment dropped March 4th and it’s phenomenal. You can purchase the new album and get more info about Wintersleep’s tour here – get ready Canada, they’re heading west!
Dan Boeckner – a founding member of the seminal Canadian indie band, Wolf Parade – is a hard-working guy. When Wolf Parade went on an indefinite hiatus in 2010, many of us felt an emptiness caused by the void left in the Canadian music landscape after this announcement. Up until the band’s recent announcement that they are getting back together for a string of residency shows in Toronto, NYC, and London (UK), many of us die-hard fans were left with very little hope to hold onto.
Boeckner, being the warhorse musician that he is, kept the tunes coming through various projects. He started the highly successful and Polaris-shortlisted group Handsome Furs with his then-wife Alexei Perry in 2005. This band explored Boeckner’s synth and dance-pop sensibilities, particularly on the acclaimed 2011 album Sound Kapital. After three great records, that band dissolved in 2012 upon their divorce.
Shortly after, Boeckner got back to his sonic roots and formed a new rock band called Divine Fits with a friend that he’d met in 2007 at a Handsome Furs gig. That friend just happened to be Brit Daniels of Spoon, joined by drummer Sam Brown (ex- New Bomb Turks). They somehow managed to find time to write and record their 2012 album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, which is just as great as you’d expect it to be given the calibre of that collaboration.
In 2013, Divine Fits was put on hold and Boeckner returned to Montreal along with Sam Brown and Devojka (of Guests) to form Operators. Although Operators is sonically similar to Handsome Furs, the band and the approach to the music are very different. Describing themselves as “analog post-punk,” the band uses equipment such as analog synths, sampling pads, drum triggers, and yes, his electric guitar. No laptops. No pre-programming.
Along with Brown and Devojka, Boeckner has taken a bold next step in his musical career. They toured with Future Islands following the release of EP1 in 2014, and are now set to release their debut full-length, Blue Wave, on April 1st through Last Gang Records. Blue Wave can be pre-ordered here.
I spoke to Boeckner Feb. 25 when Operators made a tour stop in Ottawa at Ritual. We spoke about new musical endeavours, his move to LA, revisiting Wolf Parade, and how he has confronted criticism he garnered after a controversial speech relating to Viet Cong’s band name at the Polaris Prize gala last year. Read below.
Interview with Dan Boeckner
by Matías Muñoz
MM: Anyone who follows you as a musician knows that you’re a busy guy, often with multiple projects going on simultaneously. What do you do in your spare time that isn’t music-related?
DB: That is a good question. I haven’t really had any off-time in about six months, and if I’m not recording I’m usually writing or playing with synths. I like hiking up the mountain in Montreal, or when I was living in California there was a mountain range I’d like to climb once in a while. Some outdoors stuff, you know? So other than music, reading books and hiking are about it. I can’t really think of anything else, I don’t have many hobbies!
MM: In what ways is Operators a new approach to music for you, compared to projects you’ve been part of in the past?
DB: This band is basically an amalgamation of everything I learned in Wolf Parade, Divine Fits, and Handsome Furs. Unlike Handsome Furs, which I think is it’s closest analog sonically and aesthetically, this band isn’t constrained to two people on stage with limited live instrumentation. It’s a lot more organic in a lot of ways.
Basically everything with Handsome Furs was done on a Korg ElecTribe EMX, which is a blue box developed by Korg in the early 2000’s. It’s known as a cheap alternative for vintage synth gear that was becoming more unaffordable if you wanted to make electronic music. If you were a kid in the UK, you probably weren’t going to drop £10k on equipment to make the kind of music you like because you simply couldn’t afford it. But the Korg ElecTribe was relatively cheap and had pre-programmed digital samples of classic drum machines, and virtual synths. You could do everything with it, but it had a limited sound palette and that was basically Handsome Furs. For Operators I have a wall of gear, mostly focusing on analog synthesis and sequencing. It’s the electronic version of the Dave Smith Tempest.
When we started rehearsing, it became sort of a live thing and some songs were written without the sequencing or drum patterns and more like a rock band. So there was some element of late-70’s and early-80’s techno-pop there. I guess the big difference is that it doesn’t really have constraints. I can bring aspects of Wolf Parade or Handsome Furs-style songwriting and incorporate it into what we’re doing with Operators.
MM: You mentioned earlier that you moved to LA after some major life changes a few years ago. How did that experience affect you musically, and personally?
DB: Yeah, I was actually out there during all the life changes. I was out in LA working on the Divine Fits record and everything kind of just ended. My marriage ended over the phone while I was there on a two week trip. So that trip got extended to a few years instead.
How did it affect me personally? I mean, in a lot of ways my personal life is non-existent. I have friends scattered all over that I talk to on the internet. But at that point I’d been touring so much that I rarely saw anyone I wasn’t working with. I missed people in Montreal, my home, but at the same time I had to adjust. It was like a frame jump in a film where all of a sudden I’m living in LA and everything has changed. I’m pretty adaptable, pretty comfortable anywhere.
I met Sam out in LA, who I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t go out there. He was a part of Divine Fits and obviously now playing in Operators. Devojka I met years before, and then again in Macedonia when she opened for some Handsome Furs shows. I always thought she was a great musician, and then I found out she was living in California so it was pretty easy to put the band together at that point. And I’ve known our bassist Justin since we played in hardcore bands in Victoria.
But living in California really crystallized a lot of the ideas behind Operators. Especially when I moved to Silicon Valley from LA, which was a very bizarre time of my life. I spent some time in a suburb of San Jose. I’m not snobby about cities, that place was as interesting to me as moving to Berlin would be. The way people communicate and share information is being engineered in a very small part of California. You peel back the layers of any city and there’s fascinating stuff happening under the surface.
MM: At the Polaris Gala you made some controversial comments regarding Viet Cong’s band name that were subject to heated debate. But it looks like you and April of Hooded Fang had some constructive conversations since then. Do you empathize with people who were hurt by Viet Cong’s stance on the name?
DB: That was a really painful and unhappy experience for me. The one good thing that came out of it after everything got ugly on Twitter and in real life, I started having these back and forth dialogues with April specifically. She was really gracious in a lot of ways compared to a lot of other people I was interacting on the internet with about that situation. I mean, shit, it was disappointing on a lot of levels.
The speech I gave was a little ham-fisted, and I didn’t have a lot of time to get my point across. The point I wanted to make was that Viet Cong is a dumb fucking name for a band. Especially if it’s making people emotionally distressed over a brutal civil war, which has had effects lasting generations.
I’ve been close to a lot of Balkan people and spent a lot of time in the Balkans, and that’s another place that has had hundreds of years of inter-ethnic and political violence. It’s a place that has been manipulated by foreign powers, not unlike Vietnam. A pawn in great power games. Everything about that war from every side is sensitive. If you bring something up that offends someone affected by that conflict, it doesn’t matter whether you think you’re right or not. You know? My personal opinion on a specific political aspect of that war doesn’t matter if my friend gets hurt by it.
So when the predominantly Vietnamese community in Canada is saying “this name makes us feel terrible,” then your band has to change its name. And when I giving my speech, that was the baseline I was going from. And then when I started reading through walls and walls of internet commentary, and what I saw was this diverse and beautiful underground arts community just going to town on each other. They were saying things to each other online that they would never say face-to-face.
I wasn’t trying to undermine the Vietnamese community in any way, I was speaking to the Polaris audience – people in the music industry. I wasn’t trying to say “OK, everybody can be quiet about this because I’m talking now.” I was trying to comment on the fact that the whole Viet Cong situation turned into online fist-fighting instead of producing meaningful dialogue. I was just so disappointed by that.
It mirrors a lot of really disgusting politics from previous decades, and the kind of politics I went through in the 90’s. Around the same time the Riot Grrrl movement started, there was a movement in hardcore to purge it of misogyny and racism, similar to what is happening now. Trying to get people to examine their privilege, and even examine class – which is something that has fallen out of favour these days for some reason.
When I was a young guy I was involved with the anti-APEC rallies in Vancouver. I watched that whole movement absolutely destroy itself over inter-scene fighting, and over things like who is using the right terminology. And then what was born out of that was awful, it was VICE Magazine. When that movement died out, the thing that replaced it was the early-to-mid 2000’s anti-PC movement that basically said “we’re going to do and say whatever the fuck we want.” That to me was a pretty low point in our culture. I saw similar infighting happening with the Viet Cong discourse, and that was the point I was trying to make. This positive movement is destroying itself over issues of name-calling and poor online dialogue where people go at it without looking each other in the face.
I was also shocked that people thought I was talking about Vietnamese people when I referred to the whole “forces of darkness” thing. I mean, come on, that’s absurd. When the quotes right before that are mentioning a diverse arts scene, it just seemed so decontextualized and out there to think thats what I meant. “Forces of darkness” referred to white conservatives who ran the country at the time. I just meant that if you sit there and tear each other’s throats out and go after each other without meaningful dialogue, then no one will learn anything and examine themselves.
Even if it’s difficult, and you think to yourself “I can’t believe I have to explain this simple concept to this Neanderthal, it’s necessary to the dialogue and to affect change.
MM: I found that in our community, the people, particularly WOC that are so brave in facing these issues head-on are getting mentally and physically exhausted, and feeling beat down by it all. They are trying to teach otherwise intelligent white people about concepts such as racism, and there is only so much someone can take. I mean, it’s a conversation that we all need to have, but there needs to be more voices in the community speaking up. It takes a lot to undo what we know. We have had some panels here in Ottawa, similar to the one they had in Toronto, to discuss issues of racism, transmisogyny, and issues of accessibility in our scene. What is the best venue, in your opinion, for these discussions?
DB: Yeah, for sure, and that’s why the whole thing was pretty hard for me. In my career I’ve always tried to make a point to go places that touring bands don’t want to play. One of those places is Vietnam, I’ve played a handful of shows there. Being there and talking to people that live in Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and others, it has given me a completely different perspective about Vietnam that I couldn’t learn in a Poli Sci book. Just being there and meeting people, and meeting their grandmothers – that was the thing that was amazing.
We met this guy who was in a band in Hanoi whose grandmother still speaks French, and she’s very proud of that. Her family made us an incredible meal in their home, which was one of the best experiences of my life. Getting to talk to her and the family about her life really erased a lot of the stuff I read that was written by, well, white people. I had a deep interest in the historical minutia of this country and its people, and I felt really invested in it since I had been there and played shows and met people there.
To get back to your question, I think face-to-face discussions are the best way to learn, and to take these issues on. Shooting stuff around on the internet can be really damaging. I know that a lot of this movement is based on social media, on Facebook and Twitter. April really helped me out, and she helped me understand a lot of things. She said “hey, don’t make these people explain their culture to you.” I mean, I grew up in a shitty town. I will never have the experience that POC do, having to go through this kind of thing and explain their culture to white people. My ancestors are from Ireland, and I do recognize that I grew up privileged. But I did grow up in a shitty little town where my friends, like you said, were otherwise good and intelligent white people. We’d go out, they’d come to my shows, and they would start throwing around the word “faggot.” I had to explain to them that they shouldn’t use that kind of word because it is derogatory and hurtful to some people. And it is exhausting. I mean, that’s my small window into what these people have to go through and face every day.
One of the most bummer things that came out of this was a few months before all this happened, I was publicly tweeting about FACTOR. There was this guy Paul who had this blog called Slagging Off. He jumped on this Twitter rant that I was going off on and he supported me. He really identified me and he was one of the only people that has publicly criticized FACTOR in Canada. He was kind of discredited in the mainstream media because he’s not slick or articulate. He’s not polite, I mean, he’s a punk rock dude. We talked and connected, and it was cool. I had read a lot of his stuff when I was struggling with FACTOR.
Then, in the middle of the Polaris debacle, Paul comes out of nowhere and says to the FACTOR people “hey – Dan is shit-talking you online!” This guy that I had connected so well with and had good conversations with jumped on Twitter and shared this shitty, petty Facebook post saying that I was all pissed that I didn’t get the FACTOR money I was expecting. I took a screenshot and called him out, and he back-tracked. I felt gross doing it, and the whole thing was gross. I felt that if everyone were in a room together, and could hash things out in person, then maybe everyone would have their dignity in tact. It just turned me off of social media and the internet for a good while.
There are important things being discussed, but at one point you need to ask how much time you want to invest in everything. It becomes a horrible online echo chamber at some point, you know? It was people like April that really changed things for me, and was a real human being. We talked back and forth on Twitter, and it felt real. I’m really glad those guys are changing their name, they have to.
At the end of the day, I’m glad this whole thing happened because it made me question a lot of personal believes and made me look at things in a new way.
MM: Changing gears, how did it feel to hear that Arcade Fire covered Wolf Parade’s “I’ll Believe in Anything” during the final show of their Reflektor Tour in Montreal?
Yeah, I think Tim [Kingsbury] texted me and told me that they were doing that. Operators shares a studio with Tim so I see a lot of that dude, and I see Win [Butler] now and then when he’s in town. I love those guys. I was in the band for about a year, I played bass and guitar for a while. It was like a family really.
MM: I have to ask, how excited for you to be back together playing shows and writing new material with Wolf Parade?
DB: I’m pretty excited! Yeah, we’ve been working on this for about a year now, traveling a lot. They all live pretty close to the town that I grew up in, it’s a double-layered nostalgia. At first it was pretty surreal and strange, but I’ve gotten more used to it now [laughs]. It’s a pretty psychedelic trip you know? Like a Phillip K. Dick book or something. I’m stuck in time, 25 kilometers away from where I started my first, crappy-ass metal band in junior high. But it seems fitting. So yeah, pretty excited.
Introduction adapted from article posted on January 31, 2016. Written by Matías Muñoz.